In the Palace of Black Swans, Zakdin, capital of Hatar: Blue eyes wide, Lady Sandrilene fa Toren watched her near-empty oil lamp. Her small mouth quivered as the flame at the end of the wick danced and shrank, throwing grim shadows on the barrels of food and water that shared her prison. When that flame was gone, she would be without light in this windowless storeroom.

"I'll go crazy," she said flatly. "When they come to rescue me, I'll be raving mad." She refused to admit that, with this room locked from the outside and hidden by magic, a rescue was hopeless.

"I'll draw the mob away from here, far away," Pirisi had whispered through the keyhole, speaking in her native Tradertalk. "You'll be safe until the smallpox has run its course. Then I'll return for you." But her nurse had never returned. Right outside the door, the mob had caught and killed her because she was a hated Trader. With Pirisi dead, no one would even know where Sandry had spent her last days.

Her light wobbled and shrank.

"If only I could catch it in something!" she cried. "Like Trader-wizards catch the winds in their nets-

"A net is string," she interrupted herself. "And string is thread-"

She had thread in the workbasket she had grabbed when Pirisi dragged her from her room. The basket's contents had kept her from giving up completely before this, as she embroidered until her eyes refused to focus. She had thread aplenty, in coils and in her work.

"I'm no mage," she argued, resting her head on one hand. "I'm just a girl-a noble girl, worse yet. Like that maid said, ‘Good f'r naught but to be waited on and to marry.' Good-for-naught, that's me-"

Tears filled her eyes, making the lamp flame quiver even more.

"Crying won't help!" she snapped. "I have to do something! Something besides weep and talk to myself!" She dragged her workbasket over. Fumbling, she yanked out three coils of silk, one green, one pale gray, one bright red. Swiftly, she arranged them: one in her lap, one to her left, one to her right.

The light was down to a blue core and its wavering orange skiret.

Gathering the ends of the threads in her left hand, she pulled them together in a knot, tying it as snugly as she could. Finding long dressmaker's pins in her basket, she pinned the knot to a barrel to anchor it. Her fingers shook; sweat crawled down her face. She didn't want to think of what would happen if this didn't work.